One of the problems with old mysteries and romances is that if they’re any good, their plots have been rehashed a zillion times since they were originally published. Out of the five books listed below, I only remember two real surprises, and they were in the same book. Nevertheless, all of these books satisfied my need for a light read and yet possessed a certain sparkle.

Book cover for K, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

K, by Mary Roberts Rinehart (romance)

A mysterious man who calls himself “K” moves into the neighborhood and is befriended by Sidney Page.

This one was recommended to me by a member of the book group I belong to, so when I saw it offered on a web site for free public domain ebooks, I downloaded it. This is a coming-of-age novel as much as it is a romance.

Book cover for The House of a Thousand Candles, by Meredith Nicholson

The House of a Thousand Candles, by Meredith Nicholson (mystery)

“A novel of romance and adventure, of love and valor, of mystery and hidden treasure. The hero is required to spend a whole year in the isolated house, which according to his grandfather’s will shall then become his. If the terms of the will be violated the house goes to a young woman whom the will, furthermore, forbids him to marry. Nobody can guess the secret, and the whole plot moves along with an exciting zip.

Lady Larkspur, by Meredith Nicholson (mystery)

“A country house mystery involving a missing actress of exceptional talents and virtues, a bogus widow, a returned soldier, spies, plots and suspicions.”

I really like Nicholson’s voice; it’s fresh and lively. I’ll be looking for more of his books to read when I need something light and fun.

Book cover for The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery (romance)

Twenty-nine-year-old Valancy Stirling, considered an “old maid” by her family and the community, is used to obeying her mother and the other domineering members of the Stirling clan. She receives a letter from her doctor telling her that she has no more than a year to live. Having nothing to lose, she begins saying what she thinks and living her life the way she chooses, finally finding purpose and joy.

I read this one for my book group. It was recommended by a woman who has loved it since she was a teenager, and I can understand why. It was my favorite of the five listed and the only one that surprised me on a couple of points. It’s a romantic comedy that would make a great movie. Not only that, but the nature scenes are exquisite. Of the five, this is the one I’m most likely to read again.

Book cover for The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins

The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins (English classic, mystery)

On her death bed, wealthy Mrs. Treverton dictates a letter to her maid Sarah Leeson, detailing a secret that only the two of them share. Mrs. Treverton scares Sarah into swearing that she won’t destroy the letter or take it out of the house by threatening to haunt her. She then dies before she can exact a promise from Sarah to deliver the letter to her husband. Sarah hides the letter in an abandoned part of the house and disappears, leaving Mrs. Treverton’s family in the dark about this secret that affects them greatly.

I took George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda to the beach in 2014 to re-read, remembering that I had taken Middlemarch to the beach a couple of years before and buzzed right through it. When I actually dove into Daniel Deronda, however, and stumbled over George Eliot’s long paragraphs, I realized that I had been too ambitious in my choice of novels. I set it aside and tried a few pages from some of my downloads, and it was this mystery by Wilkie Collins that grabbed me. Ironically I didn’t end up liking it so much because of a lot of fun plot twists (because nothing happened that I didn’t see coming), but because it ended up giving me a glimpse of Zion when I didn’t expect it. I can’t say too much more without spoiling the story, but I will say that it ended up showing some of the consequences of dishonesty and, by contrast, a couple examples of honesty at its purest level. I have a quote from Book 4: Chapter 2 of The Dead Secret that struck me:

The moments when the spirit within us is most deeply stirred are almost invariably the moments also when its outward manifestations are hardest to detect. Our own thoughts rise above us; our own feelings lie deeper than we can reach. How seldom words can help us, when their help is most wanted! How often our tears are dried up when we most long for them to relieve us! Was there ever a strong emotion in this world that could adequately express its own strength? . . . How many moments there are in this mortal life, when, with all our boasted powers of speech, the words of our vocabulary treacherously fade out, and the page presents nothing to us but the sight of a perfect blank!

The featured image came from Pixabay.